Last month, “Food Network Star” fans watched nervously as contestant Chef David Rose took a bite of a dessert that a teammate was making and then almost immediately spit it out because it contained peanuts – and he’s allergic to peanuts. For those of us in the food allergy community, it was a nerve-wracking moment, but fortunately, Rose did not experience a serious reaction.
FARE Teen Advisory Group member Anna Levine was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Rose earlier this week and talk to him about that experience and more. Rose, of Atlanta, received his training at Le Cordon Bleu and has his own catering and culinary consulting businesses. In addition to peanuts, he is allergic to cashews and soy. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
When and how did you find out that you were allergic to peanuts, cashews, and soy?
From a young age, I can remember always being aware of my allergies. I would go to school and when it was another student’s birthday I remember being conscious of it. If they brought in cookies or brownies I always remember asking what is in the cookie or brownie to make sure I was safe before eating them.
I noted that you come from a large family, how did your parents manage cooking for you and how did your siblings handle your allergy?
Growing up my Mom would cook using Jamaican flavors, and the usage of peanuts, cashews and soy was very limited. The major worry was external problems such as social events, vending machines, and birthdays. I always knew I had to read labels to know what stuff to stay away from. I had to always be aware of my surroundings. I was always being a food detective.
What led you to become a chef?
Both my mom and dad were chefs. From a very young age, my best memories consist of going to work with them and watching them in their element. They allowed me to help prepare food when they brought me to work with them. I have always been infatuated with food. Growing up, I was exposed to various cuisines as I had friends who were Korean, Jewish, French, and Italian. I was also a very adventurous eater, so I would eat almost anything. I went to college to become a personal trainer, and I was for a while, but it didn’t resonate, so I moved to Atlanta. While sitting at home I saw a commercial for Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and it was like a light bulb, I visited and something clicked and enrolled that same day.
How did you handle your allergy while receiving training at Le Cordon Bleu?
Just being very aware, you trained yourself as a kid to read labels so I continued that. When I started a class I made sure my instructors were aware of my allergy, and I was able to make substitutions when needed. Mainly just education and being aware. I never had a reaction and I credit it to being aware.
How does having a food allergy impact your catering and culinary consulting business?
My top priority is making sure the customer is comfortable. I always ask my client what they want and from there I craft. I will do my best to omit my allergens and to accommodate. If there is an ingredient [that I am allergic to] the client is adamant about having, I will have my sous chef prepare it and taste it. Though 9 out of 10 times I purposefully omit my allergens from the menu.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt that a restaurant was not accommodating your allergy?
Sometimes, but more restaurants over the last 10 years have become more educated. Since the 80’s and 90’s they have come to learn that you can’t just pick the peanuts off the salad and you’ll be fine. So, over years they have gotten a lot better. I have to be overly conscious and aware while eating at Thai restaurants because peanuts are a major ingredient, but I don’t let my allergy stop me from eating out.
On the show it seemed your teammates were aware of your allergy, were there any special accommodations made prior to being on the show because you have an allergy?
I mentioned to Food Network when I joined the competition about my allergy. They always had a medic on site in case of any type of emergency.
As I do watch a fair amount of reality TV, I know there are edits at times to make things look more dramatic, and while watching the episode I noticed you never received any medications or medical attention, was that edited out? Did you have your epinephrine with you?
I am anaphylactic, but this case was not severe. I bit into and noticed a crunch and spit it out immediately. The medics came over and I took an antihistamine. I was a little tired, but I was okay to continue.
What has it been like to get critiqued by such renowned chefs like Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, and what have you taken from that experience?
It is awesome! Some people have negative reactions to the critique, but I embrace it. It is in my best interest for me to listen. It is almost like boot camp, we have weeks to train and mold, so you listen and shape up or ship out. You just have to be on your A game, because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Has this experience changed the way you will handle your food allergy in the future?
Maybe I can focus on slowing down. I always have to remember I have allergies. Even in the heat of competition. So, lesson learned. I always have to ask before I eat something. I also have to be aware of how fast I am moving.
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs with food allergies?
Never let your food allergies stop you from cooking, and find what works for you. Find your own culinary voice focusing on what you can make and don’t draw on the negatives. Be open to the challenges, education, and substitutions you can make. Anything is possible. If there is a will there’s a way. Education is key, it is not going to be easy but if you have the drive you can do anything.
Thank you, Chef David!
Chef David Rose is one of the remaining final contestants on “Food Network Star,” which airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on the Food Network.
FARE TAG member Anna Levine is a high school junior from Pennsylvania who is allergic to milk, egg, tree nuts and pitted fruits. She is very passionate about raising awareness about food allergies and strives to accomplish her goal through writing.